“Did you bring the duct tape?”
“Of course, did you bring the… you know… the pliers?”
Sam pulled a hideous looking pair of rusty heavy duty curved-jaw carpenter’s pincers from the inside of his jacket. “I was going to clean these up last night, but….”
“No, they are more frightening that way.”
“I know, right?”
“Now when Clayton gets here with the chloroform, we’ll be ready.”
Sam and Brandon stood at the entrance to the office cubicle, fidgeting, Sam clutching his pincers and Brandon trying to push his hand through the cardboard tube at the center of the roll of gray shiny tape. They both could feel their nerves ratcheting up when Clayton came walking down the aisle between the cubicles. He was carrying a cardboard shoe box under his arm and the two could hear the glass bottle rattling around as he moved. He had a white folded face towel in his hand.
“Now we’re ready,” said Sam, “Now we’ll catch the son of a bitch that’s been stealing everybody’s lunches.”
“So, as you see… we have all three of you pretty much red-handed,” the Human Resources Woman said as she stopped the video. “Plus, his blood and your prints… partials, but enough, were on the pincers we found in your desk. Those things were horrible, where did you find something like that?”
“My grandfather had them in his woodshop, I picked them up when he died.” Sam kicked himself internally. “I can’t believe I didn’t notice that surveillance camera before.”
“You heard me.”
“You have been assigned to that cube… how long? Seven years?”
“That camera has been there all this time, a black dome over your head, in plain view, but it had disappeared from your mind, they always do.”
Sam glared at the Human Resources Woman. “Yeah, you look at something for long enough, you don’t notice it anymore.”
“That’s why we don’t bother to hide the cameras.”
Sam looked at the Human Resources Woman, really looked at her for the first time. He was never good at guessing ages and she could be anything from twenty-five to forty. She was wearing a standard and severe woman’s business outfit, a subtle patterned dark gray tube from skirt to shoulder carefully designed to disguise the fact she was a human being. Her hair was pulled back so tight it gave her a rictus grin.
Behind her desk was a blown-up copy of a diploma from a school with the word “middle” and two different compass directions preceding the name of a distant impoverished state. He glanced at the nameplate on her desk but forgot what it said as soon as his eyes returned to her.
Sam glowered. “Have you brought in Brandon and Clayton yet?”
“No, not yet. After we found Markson duct-taped to the water heater in the janitor’s closet, bleeding and missing most of a molar, it didn’t take long to find the incriminating evidence.”
“Markson, the asshole. So he ratted us out.”
“Nope, he wouldn’t say a word. He didn’t show up for work after that, though.”
“No, I guessed he wouldn’t. That was the point.”
“But the lunches kept on disappearing, didn’t they.”
“Yeah… dammit. We were sure that it was Markson.”
“But you were wrong.”
“Yes we were.”
“He never confessed, even under your torture, did he?”
“No, not a peep. He said that his lunches were stolen out of the office refrigerator too. So now what? Are you going to fire me? I don’t blame you. Let’s get on with it.”
The Human Resources Woman expanded her smile enough that the bun on the back of her head dipped a little.
“Fire you, oh no. There is an opening in the operations department, a district level manager’s position, with an office. You are one of the three remaining candidates.”
“Wait? What? You are offering me a promotion? But I don’t know anything about operations. I’m an accountant.”
“Here at Yoyodyne, we value pluck, independence, and innovation. Your reaction to the stolen lunches seems to indicate that you have the qualities we value in a management setting.”
“Yoyodyne? What does that mean? The company is called Earnest and Baynes. I’m not even really sure what we do… what they do.”
“Yes, that is our public name. We are offering you the opportunity to join the inner circle, the people that really understand what is going on. The group in charge of the Yoyodyne operation.”
Sam’s head was spinning; he found it hard to catch his breath. The air suddenly felt thin, lacking in oxygen.
“Are you interested,” said the Human Resources Woman. She didn’t ask it as a question.
“I guess,” said Sam. “What do I need to do to qualify?”
“That is for you to figure out.”
Sam rubbed his face with his palm, trying to decide what to do next. Suddenly, an important question came to mind.
“You said there were three candidates. Who are the other two?”
“Brandon and Clayton, of course. They have not been notified and hopefully, never will be. We have decided to give you the first shot.”
As Sam turned to leave, the Human Resources Woman called him back.
“We wanted to return these.”
She handed him the pinchers. They had been cleaned and the rust buffed off, leaving gleaming arcs of steel. Sam nodded, slipped them under his suit jacket, and left.
Getting rid of Clayton was easy. He had always been a natural crook, but very sloppy, plus fast and loose with the books in his department. A detailed anonymous letter to the local tax board inspector (mailed from another city) was all it took. Everyone lined the corridor while Clayton was marched out of the maze of cubes clutching a thin plastic grocery bag with his meager personal possessions. They didn’t even give him the dignity of the customary cardboard box.
After he left, a fast wave of employees fell upon Clayton’s cubicle to grab any left-behind office supplies. Only Sam and Brandon stood back. Sam eyed his rival and caught a distinct stink-eye glare from his former co-conspirator. Had the Human Resources Woman lied? Did Brandon know something?
It was on.
Both sides brought out every dirty trick in the book. Tiny slivers of seafood hidden in the crevices of the cubical. Invitations to non-existent meetings across town at critical times. Subscriptions to gay-porn message servers with work email addresses. Wiping out of data files. A potato in an exhaust pipe. Subtle, yet critical changes to customer databases. Viruses inserted in desktop computers.
Finally, though, Sam obtained information from a young administrative assistant about Brandon meeting up with a cute intern at a hot new nightspot. Sam knew that was the evening Brandon’s wife always went out with a group of friends. A careful email insured that the group chose the proper place to meet and was sure to run into Brandon and his illicit date.
And that was the end of Brandon.
As he left for home, an hour earlier than he had for seven years, Sam locked up his Yoyodyne badge in his desk and pulled out the Earnest and Baynes badge he wore outside of work. He took one long last look at the spectacular views from both corner office floor-to-ceiling glass windows before leaving his private office and dropping off a pile of work on his assistant’s desk.
The executive elevator was waiting and whisked him to the executive parking garage where his new Mercedes sat tight in its assigned spot. His smile turned to a scowl when he saw the heavy yellow boot locked on the front wheel. There was a typed note under one wiper blade, “Please come see us in the garage office and we can settle this minor matter.”
“What the fuck!” Sam screamed as he yanked the note off his windshield and strode toward the cinder block office. “I will have someone’s ass over this!”
He jerked open the heavy metal door and jumped into the small, windowless office. There were three parking garage employees standing by the opposite wall, facing away from him, all wearing stained yellow coveralls.
“Ok, which one of you assholes booted my Mercedes?” Sam screamed. His voice echoed around in the tiny office.
One of the men clicked something in his hand, a small remote. Sam heard a bolt slide in the door behind him. Before he could ask why the door was locked, the three turned around.
It was Brandon, Clayton, and Markson. Brandon had a roll of tape that looked like the same roll they had used on Markson, weeks before. Clayton had the same bottle of chloroform. And Markson swung something long, red, and massive, holding it with both hands. It was a big pair of nasty looking heavy duty bolt cutters. Swinging the handles, Markson made sure Sam could see the steel levers forcing the thick jaws open and shut.
“There are things you might miss a lot more than a tooth,” Markson said in a frightening, calm, matter-of-fact voice.
“Hey… what the hell?” Sam pleaded in desperation as the three closed in on him. “Come on guys. Don’t blame me, I didn’t steal anybody’s lunch.”